City Highlight: Madrid's Sol

As mentioned Madrid has 21 districts and 128 wards. Each district provides its on unique layout, demographic and culture making Madrid quite … complicated. I really didn't come to Madrid with intentions to explore these areas. However, after visiting the few places we did I left Madrid wanting more. Regardless of the heat and the lack of interesting foods, there was a great history permeating the streets. Madrid may be a valley city but it is lush with greenery, teeming with spirit and never ending with things to see and do. Prado may be its most popular tourist destination but there is plenty of color and fascination outside of its doors. 

We arrived in district Sol within the city center via the Metro. The Metro is just under this hologram glass structure exiting into the square Puerta Del Sol. Gateway of the Sun is a shopping destination with plenty of clothing, shoes and big boxes including El Cortes Ingles. Nearest to the square is Plaza Mayor with nine unique street entrances lined with street performers, bars and restaurants  There you will find Spanish mainstays like 100 Montiditos but off shoots and hidden calles produce more localized selections. There are a lot of tapas and traditional dishes like patatas bravas, calamari sandwiches, grilled ear and of course, paella. We stayed just around the corner from Hemingway's favorite, Casa Botin, known for their suckling pig. Thankfully, neither one of us were open to trying pig anything. Nearest to Plaza Mayor there are plenty of contrived touristy restaurants that dig at Hemingway and pretty much everyone not interested in tapas. So you will find a ton of mass produced pasta, pizza etc. There is also McDonald's, Subway and the crazy Museo De Jamon. Yes, a museum of meat.

Just beyond Plaza Mayor things get more neighborhoody. There you will find an open air super mercado facing an indoor supermarket. San Miguel is a beautiful market full of produce, delicacies and tapas houses. If you keep west you will find yourself at the end of the valley and smack dab into Palacio Del Real. There you can spend a day site seeing both indoors and outdoors. The palace is the royal family's home and official business is conducted there. However, there is a museum and tours of the palace and its gardens. I personally liked just counting all the windows and watching officials go in with their cars. Madrid was full of important buildings with dignitaries driving in and out in cars. I'd never seen such pomp and that alone was worth seeing. There seems to be official buildings for most everything in the city center - the arts, sports, seniors affairs. There was also a converted old bank which was just phenomenal to stroll pass - you could see all the old record rooms, deposit boxes and vaults! 

The city center appears to be small but bustling  - it is just a buffer between downtown and the old world. Once you keep north up Carrera de S. Jer├│nimo or Calle De Alcala or straight through the shopping district you will find metropolis. Just past the buildings are the parks including El Parque De Restiro. We sort of wandered into it and Parque Del Oeste. From the latter you could look down onto Casa de Campo another major green and amusement park in Madrid. Oeste also boasts a rose garden and an epic Egyptian temple re-creation. There were upper and lower paths to walk, high-rises in view and shopping as well as some amazing monuments. She stopped in a local fruit shop for an apple but was shocked when someone approached her for touching. Apparently, bare hands will bruise so you must be assisted. While walking back into the city we also stopped at Dia. It's no big box super market but it offers the usual items in a small footprint plus things like toiletries, sunscreen, phone cards etc.

I hate to say it but shopping in Madrid was a little contrived. Spain pretty much offers the same stores and offerings. It's rare you'll find boutiques that compel you to buy. The one standout was the handmade shoes being made while you wait. There was a very popular shop across from our flat that opened twice a day, first come first serve. Casa Hernanz was so busy we never could make the line but I left Madrid regretting not getting a pair of the fabulous espadrilles. The mini guide she had on Madrid mentioned a famous candy shop that was more of a spectacle. Madrid had lots of places with windows choc full of licorice, rock candy and Violettas but this place was a wonder. We took a lot of pictures at Caramelos Paco which offered loose candy by weight, novelty meringues and gigantic baskets of candy for parties. We showed the candy lady our book who then ran to show it to the owner. She asked could she copy the pictures of the shop and offered us ice cream while we waited. I left with huge paper sacks of candy for next to nothing.

Our last night in Madrid I wanted to give the tapas experience another try. We stopped at a dive bar just outside of Plaza Mayor. In turn, they had the best of the "tourist trap" food complete with beef empanadas, saucy paellas and Cruz Campos beer on tap. My paella was German style with mushrooms and hot dogs! I loved that we could look through the front window and people watch while eating. There were lots of locals and police officers that also stopped in. I can't recall the name of the place but it killed me that it faced the spot that gave me such horrible baked empanadas just a few days before. It goes to show that Madrid is just full of one offs like this and the more time you have you'll find stellar places. There are still hundreds of neighborhoods to explore and enjoy. Sol just seemed to have a little bit of everything. 

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